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November 2010
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Ideas for Municipalities to Address Climate Change

Climate change isn’t a new topic. It probably doesn’t even make the top ten on the news anymore. But it still demands attention. Last night I attended a presentation on Local Governments Efforts to Address Climate Change: Progress and Problems. The speaker, Scott Pasternack spoke passionately about Toronto and New York City, two cities he has been actively working to address climate change needs.

Pasternack, a lawyer and municipal policy adviser, admitted that he was not a climate science expert, but proved he was an expert on policy to help mitigate and adapt to climate change. One theme that Pasternack hammered home was the idea that climate change contributes to deteriorating infrastructure, changes in weather patterns, etc but that it is not the root cause in these changes.

Why Do We Need To Respond?

Cities, hubs of economic activity, generate the bulk of greenhouse gas emissions. That’s not surprising given that about 50% of the world lives in an urban environment. The C40 Cities, The Climate Leadership Group estimates that 75% of the total electricity use is in cities.

Not only do cities need to adapt due to the emissions they release, but also due to the changes in weather patterns. Extreme storms are causing electrical outages and washing out roads. Cities need to adapt their infrastructure to mitigate the climate change effects.

How Will Cities Respond?

The city of Toronto has come up with a mitigation and adaptation plan; they believe that the two go hand-in-hand to successfully combat climate change. From Ahead of the Storm, a City of Toronto a climate change adaptation strategy, the following Venn diagram was borne:

The C40 cities have all come up with mitigation and adaptation strategies. The C40 cities understand that cooperation and transparency are necessary to make real gains in combating climate change; the cities have made their climate change action plans publicly available.

In a perfect world cities would be making grounds mitigating the effects of climate change, instead cities are left pondering what the next steps are. Pasternack cited that insufficient funds, lack of consensus, unengaged stakeholders and legal impediments are thwarting city efforts. More than anything cities are powerless due to paramountcy and preemption.

The success of cities is held in balance with economic and social sustainability, but also environmental sustainability.